Jamuna BK is 19 years old, and lives alone with her four-month-old baby son in a remote village in Surkhet District, Nepal. Her husband (23 years old) and father-in-law both work in India as labourers. Jamuna has been married for five years and is originally from India. She is educated to Secondary level. When she came to Nepal, Jamuna did not know the language or culture, and initially found it very difficult to adjust. She has not visited her natal home since she got married.
Jamuna usually works almost eight hours per day as a seasonal farm labourer. She also brews alcohol and raises chickens to sell locally. The farm is a 15-minute walk from her home. She has not worked since the birth of her son but is hoping to work again as a farm labourer in the next cultivation cycle: ‘There isn’t much work in the farm at present, we will have to plant maize in Baishakh/Jeth [mid-April to mid-May/mid-June] and I will have work then.’ Jamuna’s husband does not like that she works ‘as he is there to work.’ However, what her husband earns is insufficient and her income helps to buy daily rations and meet unforeseen medical emergencies. Sometimes, she also uses her money to pay for the loans she has taken from a couple of financial savings groups operating across rural Nepal.
Being on her own, Jamuna does all the care work by herself: ‘As soon as I wake up I have to take care of the kitchen works, cook, wash the dishes and look after the baby.’ She has to fetch water, the firewood, and the grass for the ox, and all of these tasks are time-consuming and tedious. She says, ‘I do not go to forest, the baby is small, I do not get time to go to the forest. I bring a bundle [of grass/firewood] from the field nearby.’ Her only support in taking care of her baby, especially when she has to fetch firewood or grass, comes from her sisters-in-law who live nearby:
We [the sisters-in-law] take turns to go [to fetch firewood or grass]. We are four sisters [in-law]; all of us do not go at once, if two of us go the other two are there to look after the children and if three of us go [then] the one left behind takes care of the children.
When he is at home, Jamuna’s husband usually helps her with childcare and other tasks, such as taking care of the ox. He took great care of her when she hurt her back falling from a tree when she was trying to fetch grass for their cattle. He also took care of her during the last trimester of her pregnancy: ‘The baby was born in Kartik [mid-October – mid-November] and he left in Mangsir [mid-November – mid-December].’
Since her husband left again for work, Jamuna has been on her own and finds it very difficult to manage time and to complete her tasks: ‘On some days I manage but there are days when it’s difficult, I am not able to cut the grass. It happens when my son doesn’t let me [go] with his tantrums.’ Jamuna is very overwhelmed by her care tasks and wishes she had someone who could help her with them:
I am alone and I have to do everything from consoling the crying baby, to feeding him and the ox, I have to throw the waste, washing the dishes, cook food. I wish my mother-in-law was here… she ran away. She was from India and she did not even speak our language.
Since she is on her own, Jamuna finds it very difficult to manage her home when she’s engaged in some form of paid work: ‘I miss out doing many things, sometimes I can’t feed the cow, sometimes there is no water and I can’t even look after my child.’ The injury that she sustained while trying to fetch fodder for her cattle still makes it difficult to work:
I can’t work too much as I still get back pain. Tying a cloth around the waist is compulsory while working… I have to do everything on my own, there is no one to cook for us, and I have to do it even when I am ill.
Jamuna really hopes that the government will do something about the water situation in the village as it takes her a lot of time to fetch water for drinking, cooking and washing purposes. She’s clearly overwhelmed with her care work as she is on her own and redistribution within the family is difficult:
If only there was someone to look after my son I could bring sufficient grass and firewood. I can’t do my work looking after my son and feeding him, there are so much work that need to be done, I can’t do them while boiling the milk for him, but there is no one to help me.
As such, she wishes that there was a childcare centre and decent work opportunities available nearby. This would allow her to balance both her paid and care responsibilities well.